Friday, December 9, 2011

Review: (Montreal) Urban Tales

The Danger of Chocolate
Centaur renews its annual Tales
by Sarah Deshaies

Watching Urban Tales is like taking a bite of sweet chocolate, and having your tongue taste a bitter cacao centre. Slightly shocked at first, you swirl the taste around, and let it slide down your throat, and ultimately, it warms your belly.

If you’re not Scrooge, but can’t quite handle the holiday hubris, it makes for a good evening.

Théâtre Urbi et Orbi’s fifth English edition of the Urban Tales serves up seven bonbons of off-kilter holiday fare at Centaur. In the midst of all the holiday finery, all the pre-Christmas glitter and tinny holiday music, here’s a show with some dark, X-mas-themed tales that will give you a respite. If you’re not Scrooge, but can’t quite handle the holiday hubris, it makes for a good evening.

Multitasking director Harry Standjofski is our onstage ringleader, riffing quite well on his guitar to Christmas songs in between seven monologues, all written by local anglo playwrights.

Vertip, our first character, is Joseph Shragge’s quirky custodian of the Ukrainian Christmas puppet pageant. Brought to life by Andreas Apergis and perfectly costumed in a cluster of ‘80s refuse, Vertip is slowly tormented by those things entrusted to his care - his puppets.

Simon Sachs’ curious tale of an unloved housewife who falls for a “sweet, short, magical Jew” takes a bizarre, sexual turn, with Danette MacKay at the helm. And if you’ve ever wondered what actor Tristan D. Lalla does in his spare time, the third monologue conjures up a morbid and unusual side job for him in Urban Tales founder Yvan Bienvenue’s Death & Co. Alex Bisping does a turn as a jailbird in a story written by Standjofski, and then Standjofski himself takes the stage to tell Jim Burke’s dark take on a fairy tale and a poor street kid. Lindsay Wilson’s does a slightly-too-soft take on a schoolgirl confession in Joanne Sarazen’s ambitious Virgin. And pulling Centaur double duty after God of Carnage, actor Marcel Jeannin caps off the night with another Bienvenue gem.

The Centaur’s smaller stage was reworked to a T, with a bar in the corner, and several tables and stools, a la coffeeshop or bar performance, gathered onstage. Three statues perch atop the stage’s second level, giving off a touch of Montreal. But they’re adorned with fake noses and santa hats, giving off a touch of Christmas tease as well. The actors perform on a small space on an Oriental carpet, but the whole thing has an airy feel to it.

Out of the seven shorts, Apergis shone the brightest. The stories are not all as well-honed as they could be, but it’s a good show, with terrific, tingling guitar music. In the end, it gets neatly wrapped up, and you’re ready to return to the hollow holiday cheer outside.

Urban Tales runs at Centaur Theatre Dec 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 8 p.m. It runs for 2h15min.  Regular $22; Subscribers/Seniors/Under 30 $18; Students $16.

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